NDSU head men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips once ended practice early because he saw a TrayVonn Wright dunk so unbelievable, he figured nothing else could be accomplished that day. Granted it came towards the end of practice, Wright has been giving his teammates and Bison fans treats like that since he came to campus in 2010.
The 6-foot-7-inch senior forward from Waterloo, Iowa, has wowed anyone that has witnessed him play with his leaping ability and finishes around the rim. For Wright, his highlight-reel dunks may not come as a surprise, considering his first dunk occurred the summer before seventh grade.
But he does understand the significance his dunks can have on a game.
“It’s a morale booster,” Wright said. “It gets the crowd into it, especially at home. It makes the game a lot more fun.”
With a 40-inch vertical, Wright has delivered momentous dunks for the Bison since he played as a freshman in the 2010-11 season. Those dunks are what initially caught the eye of Phillips.
“My god, we gotta get him,” Phillips remembered thinking. “The first thing you notice about him was his dunks. You’re in a gym with five different games going on at once, and there’s high school kids running all over, you’re looking at a few of them here and there. And he went up and punched one … it got my attention in a hurry.”
Four years later, Wright’s coaches and teammates say they are over the wow factor. In fact, they come to expect at least one big dunk a day. Junior point guard, Lawrence Alexander, who had Wright as a host when he visited campus, said his first impression of Wright was how tall he was. Then he played a game of basketball with him.
“The first night of open gym, I really saw how long he was and how athletic he was and it was pretty amazing,” Alexander said.
The little effort Wright shows to dunk leaves many people expecting him to rattle the rim every time he’s in the lane. Not only are the fans expecting it, but his teammates and coaches seem to cherish it.
“It’s fun to be on that bench as he gathers to go up, the whole bench kind of senses it,” Phillips said.
And to give Wright some motivation, Phillips likes to tell him before every game that there is a kid who saves his money up all week just so they can watch Wright dunk. The kid is sitting somewhere at the top row waiting, and if Wright doesn’t get a dunk in, he’s going to go home sad and thinking he wasted 10 dollars.
Wright doesn’t have a mindset of dunking every time he’s in the lane, though. Although he says he’s never been blocked on a dunk attempt, it’s his instinct that takes over when he’s in the air.
“Sometimes you think about,” Wright said about the decision to attempt a dunk over someone or not. “Other times, it’s just natural reaction.”
While Wright’s dunks have people talking after the games, he has improved his versatility in all facets of the game in his years at NDSU. Maybe the most impactful spot Wright has is on the defensive side. Wright has totaled 156 career blocks. He’s led the Bison in that category the last two years, and his 61 blocks last season was the second highest single-season total in NDSU history.
Offensively, Wright has managed to increase his points per game each year. Averaging 5.7 points a game his freshman year, where 24 of his 63 made field goals were dunks, Wright reached a double-digit scoring average last year and is now third on the team with 11.3 points per game this season.
“My primary position on the team is defense, because I can switch a lot of ball screens and alter shots, block shots,” Wright said. “Offensively, I’ve been working a lot on shooting in the four years I’ve been here. The athletic ability came naturally, but I’ve worked on ball handling and getting my body in the right position to score.”
Wright’s field goal percentage this season is .506. That is up from .446 last season. He also leads the Bison with 98 rebounds, a statistic that reached 204 total rebounds last year.
“He’s so versatile,” Phillips said. “He can score inside and he can score outside. He can defend the perimeter and alter shots. He can rebound, handle the ball and he does a lot of things very well. He’s become a very complete ball player for us.”
That versatility has helped the Bison reach a 15-5 record so far this season. The one aspect of his game that will be most remembered, though, is his dunking ability. His team has seen him do it all, but a few specific dunks still stick out.
“My favorite one was (last year) against South Dakota,” Alexander said. “He got a tip slam and with his vertical, he was literally looking in the rim. But overall, he does it every day in practice.”
Wright couldn’t pick out a certain dunk that’s stuck out to him the most. As Phillips said, they all kind of blend together. But that’s bound to happen when you’ve been doing it since junior high.